By Abu Bakr Khaal. Charis Bredin, trans.
2014, Darf Publishers, 978-1-85077-273-6, £7.99 pb.
Reviewed by Margaret Powis on June 2, 2016
Migration is nothing new; humans have been on the move for uncountable centuries. What makes the 20th and 21st centuries different are the huge numbers of people involved. The reasons are the same: to escape from war, economic hardship and even starvation toward what is perceived as a more secure life. African Titanics chronicles the almost mythic journey of one man from Eritrea to Tunis, via Khartoum, the Eygptian Desert and Libya. The majority of the people migrating with him are Africans heading toward Lampedusa, Italy, but similarities with the tragedy of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani refugees are inescapable. The straightforward narrative of the journey is interspersed with folktales, poems and encounters with local seers. The migrants meet generosity and kindness, as well as cruelty, disregard for human life and sometimes, tragically, death. The title suggests the doomed quality of the quest, but still the migrants journey on. While this is the story of particular locations, individuals and events, it could be an account of any migrant’s journey. Hope and despair exist next to moments of agony and laughter.